It’s sloppy, messy, and sometimes hard to watch, but CFL fans have never been more grateful to see preseason football.
While regular-season games are all about engaging storylines and final scores, the preseason is all about the players. Dozens of future CFL stars will be getting their first taste of the action this weekend but with so many new prospects on every roster, it can be difficult for fans to know who they should have their eyes on.
As always, 3DownNation has done the work for you. We’ll have a list of players to watch ahead of every preseason game in 2022, giving fans — whether in-stadium or watching on TV — an easy cheat sheet to enhance their viewing experience.
The new-look Edmonton Elks are slated to visit the back-to-back defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday. If you are headed down to IG Field, here are the players you should be aware of.
Tre Ford, QB, Waterloo
You could make pretty much any of Edmonton’s quarterbacks your top player to watch this preseason, but none carry the level of intrigue that Tre Ford does. The reigning Hec Crighton Trophy winner as Canada’s top university player was the first quarterback taken in the first round of the CFL Draft since 1980 and has a chance to earn early playing time with the Elks. Ford is a generational athlete with 4.45-speed and could get into the starting conversation with a strong preseason showing, something that is virtually unheard of for a Canadian rookie.
Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
Thomas has already played one CFL game, recording two special teams tackles in a Week 3 appearance for the Riders last year. He could see much more time this season, as the Elks’ creative defensive staff will have a hard time wasting a 230-pound linebacker that runs a 4.44-second forty-yard dash. A former five-star recruit, Thomas was prolific at Florida State and should be a chess piece worthy of a Chris Jones’ defence, as evidenced by the fact he’s listed at defensive end on the game’s depth chart.
Pharoah McKever, DE, Florida International
McKever is listed at receiver on the roster and defensive end on the depth chart, but you might as well call him the Chris Jones special. At six-foot-six and 260 pounds, he was a prep school quarterback and safety who started his college career at wide receiver, converted to defensive end, then switched to tight end where he earned several NFL opportunities. How Jones actually uses him is anybody’s guess, but there could be shades of AC Leonard or Tobi Antigha in this fascinating prospect.
Gavin Cobb, REC, Manitoba
Pint-sized receiver Gavin Cobb flashed incredible athleticism in this year’s draft process and has continued to show off in training camp. Canadians his size — five-foot-nine and 170 pounds — always have an uphill battle making a roster, if they even get a look at all, but he’ll get a chance to roll with the starting unit in his preseason debut. Edmonton’s open return competition could give Cobb an in as well, as he consistently broke kicks for scores at both the NCAA Division II and U Sports levels.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Liam Dobson, OL, Texas State
Twice named a member of college football reporter Bruce Feldman’s prestigious Freaks List for his ability to dunk a basketball at 330 pounds, Dobson arrives in Winnipeg with a chance to seize the starting left guard job as a rookie. His brief foray with the USFL now a footnote in history, the Bombers’ 2021 first-round pick is the type of hard-nosed, physical player the team has built their dynasty on. Nevertheless, the pressure of expectations will be heavy right from his first preseason snap for a player billed as the second coming of Chris Walby.
Dalton Schoen, REC, Kansas State
Schoen is something of a CFL stereotype, but there is no sense in changing a perfect formula. The former walk-on is everything you want from a slotback and more, with blazing speed, sudden change of direction and sure hands. With the release of Jalen Saunders, the Bombers have an opening in the starting lineup and a strong preseason showing from Schoen could make him the man to fill it.
Corey Straughter, DB, Louisiana Monroe
Not regarded as an elite NFL-level athlete due to some of his deficiencies in press coverage, the production Straughter had in college cannot be argued with. Though injuries cost him his senior season, he was named an All-American after a five-interception junior year and allowed just 27.9 percent of the balls thrown his way to be caught – the lowest for a starting corner in the entire FBS. His off-ball instincts could make him a menace for the Bombers.
Patrice Rene, DB, Rutgers
Once heralded as a potential NFL pick after early career success at North Carolina, injuries derailed Rene’s upward trajectory and rendered him a shadow of his former self after transferring to Rutgers. The Canadian cornerback will be granted the opportunity to turn things back around with the Bombers and his uncommon length for the position at six-foot-two with nearly 34-inch arms will make him hard for observers to ignore.